Eskom has asked for public comment regarding the proposed 16 percent increase each year for the next five years and boy, is it getting a response. Everyone, from businesses and farmers to union leaders and the man on the street, has taken up the call to respond - and all the responses are negative.
Obviously, the poor are going to feel the impact the most, but everyone, regardless of their income, is going to pay more for just about everything if the power utility gets its way. Food prices will rocket. In fact, anyone who supplies a service to the general public is going to have little option but to hike their rates.
As things stand, most people will tell you that their electricity bills have already almost doubled over the past few years. Eskom tells us that it needs the increases in order to fund its multi-billion rand expansion programme to keep the lights on in this country. Then we hear that the parastatal has spent millions funding business breakfast meetings for a national newspaper and loses roughly R1.2-billion a year through electricity theft and other related crimes.
In an ideal world, South Africa would have more than one company generating and supplying electricity. Make no mistake, Eskom, despite its losses, is still making an awful lot of money. Last year’s records show that the company made R73.4-bn in total. This figure (thanks in part to the 16 percent price increase imposed last year) was up from the R63-bn it collected in 2010. The big question of course is always going to be whether government is going to listen to its people or whether it will proceed with the increases, regardless of arguments to the contrary.
Sadly, as was seen with the recent FNB advertising incident, government only really seems to come out fighting when it believes that it is being criticised. The adverts, which feature a number of South African children sharing their hopes and dreams for a better South Africa, caused an uproar within the political party. The ANC Youth League came out with all guns blazing, labelling the adverts treasonous. Government itself said that the adverts were a direct attack on the president, his ministers and the government as a whole.
Two things have become blatantly obvious: no government, regardless of how strong it believes it is, can ignore its people and inflict life changing increases with little or no regard to the wellbeing of its populace. It also cannot continue to waste huge sums of money and expect its citizens to pick up the tab and pay for things that should, in part, be paid for with the money they hand to the tax man.
The theft of electricity and the lackadaisical approach to payment by various municipalities around the country also needs to be addressed urgently. One municipality in particular has racked up debts to the tune of R3.2-bn over the past 10 years, which leads one to ask - if everyone paid their own way, would we still be seeing these incredibly steep increases being introduced? Probably not.
What we really need from Eskom is accountability. The utility needs to up the ante and act decisively when it comes to dealing with those who steal electricity. It needs to control its debt from municipalities and not allow the situation to get further out of hand, but perhaps most of all, it needs to listen to the South African consumer. The country as a whole cannot afford to have a basic commodity priced out of reach.